Monday, November 07, 2011

Romney and Cain tied for lead: Another look at the sad state of the Republican presidential race

So far, it doesn't seem all that sexual harassment is hurting Herman Cain. According to the latest Gallup poll, Cain is tied for the lead with Romney at 21 percent, nine points ahead of Newt Gingrich and ten points ahead of Rick Perry. Ron Paul is fifth with 8 percent, while Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Jon Huntsman round out the field with 3, 2, and 1 percent respectively.

Based on the Gallup numbers, I provided some thoughts on the sad state of the Republican presidential race last month. Here I go again:

-- I wrote last week that Cain is done:

He'll continue to poll well, for a time, but support for Cain is really nothing more than protest support from conservatives who don't like the other alternatives to Romney (Perry, mainly), and, as more and more about Cain comes out (these sexual harassment claims, the abject ignorance of world affairs, etc.), even most of conservatives who make up the GOP base (those who don't care about sexual harassment and who take pride in their ignorance of world affairs, etc.) will abandon him. Where they go is another matter. Perry? Maybe. (If he can get it together, which is hardly a sure thing.) It's just hard to see Cain remaining not just on top but anywhere near the top for much longer.

I stand by that, but, needless to say, he's hanging around and still doing (i.e., polling) quite well. This may be because most Republicans don't care about the allegations. (Apparently sexual harassment isn't a big deal to them. Which tells you a lot about them. Not good things, I might add.) But it may also be because the other right-wing alternatives to Romney, specifically Perry and Bachmann, have fallen badly out of favour. And that's really all Cain is: a protest candidate. The question is how far he can go as such. If Perry ever gets his act together, he may well rise again, consolidate conservative support, and pose the toughest challenge for Romney, but, as of right now, Perry's act is a joke.

Over time, as more and more comes out (about groping, for example), I suspect that Cain's support will drop. If he stays around, though, his lack of seriousness (as Chait has argued, he's not even running a real campaign) will ultimately hurt him, as will his policy superficiality and abject ignorance of world affairs and pretty much everything else. I realize that the Republican base prides itself on anti-intellectualism, if not abject ignorance, but some of Cain's support will surely slip away as, like Perry thus far, he is further deemed unfit for the presidency even by some of his current supporters.

-- I have written numerous times about Romney's generally poor showing in polls, poor by the standards of anyone supposedly a frontrunner, and about how low his ceiling seems to be. And what do we see here? Just 21 percent. Need we say it again? Conservatives, who make up the bulk of the GOP, do.... not... like... Mitt Romney. Actually, that's putting it nicely. Here's what Dear Leader Rush said about Romney a while back:

Romney is not a conservative. He's not, folks. You can argue with me all day long on that, but he isn't. What he has going for him is that he's not Obama and that he is doing incredibly well in the debates because he's done it a long time. He's very seasoned. He never makes a mistake, and he's going to keep winning these things if he never makes a mistake. It's that simple. But I'm not personally ready to settle on anybody yet -- and I know that neither are most of you, and I also know that most of you do not want this over now, before we've even had a single primary! All we've had are straw votes. You know that the Republican establishment's trying to nail this down and end it. You know that that's happening, and I know that you don't want that to happen, and neither do I.

And then there's Huntsman, easily the most sensible candidate the Republicans have, who called Romney "a perfectly lubricated weathervane." 

Look, Romney may win the nomination. He's got great ground campaigns all across the country; he's been planning for this ever since '08, and so effectively has been running for president for at least six years (as he ran for the '08 nomination as well and so started that campaign long before that); he has a solid national profile; the media seem to like him; he's widely considered to be, among the leading candidates, the only sensible choice; he's generally considered to be "electable"; and, while he may not have the momentum of the true frontrunner, let alone the air of invincibility and inevitability that comes with being a consistent frontrunner, there is a certain sense that the nomination is his to lose, that he's probably the best choice, however imperfect.

But if he does win, it will only be by default -- that is, only because the rest of the part, the anti-Romney majority, imploded, failing to vomit up a legitimate contender. (Again, it was thought to be Perry, but, no, not so far.)

-- Gingrich is hanging around, too, and showing signs of improvement. He was way back at 4 percent in August. Now he's up at 12. Is this sustainable? Well, sure. There's no reason he can't poll 8-12 percent nationally. He likely won't do as well on a state-by-state basis in the primaries, when it's about awarding delegates as opposed to expressing general preference, but it would appear that he's well-positioned to be a kingmaker. And I suspect that's what he wants to be. He'll see how things play out, then throw his weight behind Romney or Perry (or, yes, Cain). Basically, Gingrich knows he won't be president. His campaign all along has been largely about expanding the multi-million-dollar Gingrich brand, to profit off politics, but it's also been about influence. Gingrich wants to be the "ideas" man of the GOP. He wants to go on the Sunday-morning talk shows and spew his usual partisan bullshit. He wants to be... influential. I thought he'd be out of the race early, not least after much of his campaign staff left him, but the weakness of the field has kept him alive.

-- Perry, oh Perry. I really thought he'd get his act together and return at least to Romney-level support, if not to the lead once again. Let's just say I'm having my doubts. (Though I still think he can do it.)

-- Paul? Whatever. He'll get his 8-15 percent support, likely closer to 8 than to 15. He's a renegade in the GOP, occasionally to his credit. Those who love him really, really love him. But he's more thorn than rose to Republicans.

-- Bachmann. Santorum. What's the point?

-- Huntsman. Alas.

-- Let me just end how I ended that post a month ago: If things don't go well for Republicans next year... Rubio-Haley 2016? You read it here first.

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